What happened at Babi Yar near Kyiv in September 1941?


Babi Yar was the name of a ravine outside Kyiv, the site of the single largest shooting operation carried out by the German Einsatzgruppen as they followed the Wehrmacht through the Soviet Union. According to the reports sent back to Berlin, 33,771 Jews were killed by Einsatzgruppe C in just two days, 29-30 September, 1941.

In the late summer of 1941, the German invasion of the Soviet Union appeared to be succeeding.  Before the entry of German forces into the city of Kyiv on 19 September 1941, the Jewish community numbered around 160,000. Approximately 100,000 of these, however, fled immediately before German forces arrived.

On 20 and 24 September, explosions from bombs laid by Soviet troops and secret police before they evacuated, killed Germans and Ukrainians. The explosions led to a wave of arrests and reprisal shootings by German soldiers. On 26 September, German authorities decided to shoot the Jews of Kyiv. On 28 September, notices were posted around the city instructing Jews to congregate the next morning at the corner of Melnikov and Degtiarev Streets. The notices instructed Jews to bring documents, valuables and clothing with them. A Ukrainian witness later described the scene the next morning:

Many thousands of people, mainly old ones—but middle-aged people also were not lacking— were moving toward Babi Yar. And the children—my God, there were so many children! All this was moving, burdened with luggage and children. Here and there old and sick people who lacked the strength to move by themselves were being carried, probably by sons or daughters, on carts without any assistance. Some cry, others console. Most were moving in a self-absorbed way, in silence and with a doomed look. It was a terrible sight. Over the next two days, 33, 771 Jews were killed by shooting. Dina Pronicheva, a young actress, managed to jump into the ravine ahead of being shot and played dead to avoid detection. She dug herself out from under the layer of sand used to cover the bodies and survived to testify against some of the perpetrators at their trial in January 1946.

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